What does a career Indian protester do when he realizes the Left has failed him and his people? Ask Russell Means, Olgala Sioux of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Mr. Means recently endorsed Republican John Thune’s bid for the Senate. Thune is running against Democrat incumbent Tom Daschle. Means now calls himself a “Lakota Libertarian Republican.”
It makes perfect sense. There has been little improvement in Indian country under the Democrats. Conditions in South Dakota reservations certainly haven’t improved under Daschle. What’s an Indian to do politically? "I'm going to work with Sen. Thune's staff,” says Means, “and the state Republican Party, and that will open doors to work with the National Republican Party to completely change Indian policy in America."
For some years, in fact, Means has recognized the impotence of the Democratic Party’s approach to Indian problems. He joined the Libertarian Party in 1987, and ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor of New Mexico in 2002. “What is an American? I believe an American loves to be free. You are free to be responsible. That's the only rule you should understand,” Means says.
That American freedom does not exist on the great Indian reservations. In fact, tyrannical communism reigns on the reservations. Means explains, “This [America] is the only place where communism is successfully practiced in the world. Communism is alive and well on Indian reservations run by the United States government.”
The Republican ticket may offer Indians an alternative, says Thune, and he has more than just Russell Means behind him.
Bruce Whalen, also an Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge, is committee chairman of the Republican Party in Shannon County. Whalen says, "I know there's a lot of Republicans out there on Pine Ridge. They just don't know it yet.”
Whalen believes the Republican Party more closely mirrors his traditional Lakota values than the Democratic Party. Those values are respect for life, limited government, sovereignty and local control.
Whalen believes government-funded programs and tribal politics that dole out the money are the root of the reservation's poverty. Alcoholism and other abuses follow suit.
“I see how the social programs are devastating the people around here,” he said. “The Democrats are hurting us.”
Thune agrees. Indians will identify with Republicans if members of the party take the time to explain what the party stands for. Thune thinks the idea of less government translates into freedom and sovereignty for Indians.
But with the BIA in charge, “it's pure communism,” says Russell Means, “and it's an abject failure. Just like it was in the Soviet Union. It's failure. You've created a dictatorship by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Means recalls, “The Libertarian Party had a party platform that all claims by Indian people would be settled for existing government surplus land, and that would be the end of it; then they'd be on their own. We'd exist as sovereign nations, as protectorates of the United States government, but economically they'd be on their own. And, I pushed for that. And so all claims, all treaty violations would be taken care of, and there'd be no other recourse except in courts of law. Some would fail, some would succeed.”
One Sioux woman, a Sisseton Wahpeton woman of eastern South Dakota, gravely cautions. Betty Ann Gross noted a rift between Indian leaders and Indian people once before, in Sports Illustrated (March 4, 2002). She more recently posted, “I believe it is up to the individual Indian bands in America to make this decision to preserve ‘the Indian’ and it is up to each ‘Indian’ to assist his own reservation, community, family and self.”
In other words, one decision or one solution does not fit all Indian tribes. Each tribe faces different circumstances in terms of size, population, resources, and hence, variant likelihood of success as an independent, sovereign protectorate. And Betty Ann is not so quick to blame the government for all of today’s Indian problems. She is a registered Republican also, but does not expect salvation from a political party.
Interestingly, yet another well-known Oglala Indian, Tim Giago, is running on the Democratic ticket against Tom Daschle. Giago, publisher of The Lakota Journal, is definitely a liberal, but also realizes that Democrats and their Indian casinos have done nothing for Indians.
Russell Means says it’s all about freedom. Which party promises you the most freedom? Which allows the freedom to be responsible? Given the Democratic record of dealing with Indians in South Dakota, there isn’t any doubt in Russell’s mind.